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We all know the struggle of actually making it through the last few weeks until winter break. But how do we survive, and maybe even thrive, in that time? In today’s episode, Cassie shares her 5 best tips on getting through until break without pulling out your hair. Listen as she discusses how to be flexible without being taken advantage of, how to stay focused on your curriculum, and the best ways to deal with the stress that comes with this time of year. Full episode transcript below.
Cassie: I know some of you judgy mcjudgersteins are going to totally judge me for saying this and that’s okay because deep down you know that you are doing the very same thing. I am counting down to winter break. Yes, I’m just fresh off of a Thanksgiving break like many of you and like some of you I actually had an entire week off for Thanksgiving break. Don’t hate. I have been in school since like August 1st, it’s been forever.
But why would I possibly be counting down the days until winter break now that I’m all bright eyed and bushy tailed from a Thanksgiving break? Well, if you’ve been around the art teachering block a time or two and like I have myself, then you know that the span between Thanksgiving break and winter break is the most crazy stressful, interrupted and longest time of your art teachering life.
So what do we do? We just survive and I’m here today to share with you my top five ways to survive and maybe thrive. Eh, we’ll just work on the survival part until winter break. I’m Cassie Stephens and this is Everyday Art Room.
I just got done looking at my school calendar and just when I think I have one day that isn’t interrupted by an assembly, a visit from Santa Claus, a winter program, nope there it is. Something else pops up. It’s a virtual whack a mole of so much craziness happening and it’s even hard for me to wrap my brain around what my day today is going to look like and you know what I’ve decided? I’m not even going to try to wrap my brain around it because it will surely malfunction.
I have decided that my number one rule to making it to winter break is to just go with the ever-changing flow. Be flexible. You cannot fight this tidal wave of things that are going to be happening. Of illnesses, of kids who are going to be absent, of classes who are going to be on field trips, of play practices or programs that are going to need to happen. You just can’t, so you might as well be flexible and go with it.
When classroom or special area teachers come to me because they need more time to practice with the kids for the music program, or Santa Claus is visiting at this time, can you make sure that we have art at a different time? Is that going to be doable for you? If it works for me, if it works for my schedule, if it doesn’t interrupt my other classes, I am more than happy to rearrange my schedule.
I always feel like my number one goal is to make sure that I get those kid’s art time in there for that week. It doesn’t always happen. You guys know that, but if I can make it happen, if I can have them even come in during my plan time, I’m going to try because I’d hate for any of my students to miss out on their one hour week chance to get to create.
Now, when I say be flexible, I don’t mean be taken advantage of. I remember my very first year teaching, the music teacher came to me and said she was going to need my students for two weeks leading up to a winter program to practice. Two weeks of them not having any art time, and I told her, “I can’t do that. That’s not going to be something that’s possible.” There’s a big difference between being flexible and being taken advantage of and your goal every day is to make sure those kiddos not only get art but get the best art teacher and experience that you can possibly provide. So even though you’re going to be flexible this holiday season and try your best to go with the flow, remember, don’t let yourself get railroaded or taken advantage of.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about my number two in my five ways to survive to winter break. Number two, y’all better put that Santa boot down. Put that Santa boot down, and here’s what I mean by that. Tell me if this has ever happened to you. You’re standing at your door and your students are coming up to your door and the classroom teacher turns to you and says, “I don’t know what you have planned today, or if you have anything planned today.” No honey, I don’t have a single solitary thing planned today. How did you know and I am totally open to suggestions. What on God’s green Earth would you like me to do for you because I am here to serve?
Obviously, that is sarcasm, but you all have been there right? Where the classroom teacher’s like, “I don’t know what you have planned today, but I need all 27 of these terra cotta pots painted in a Christmas kind of theme because we’re going to plant poinsettias in them.” Congratulations. I’m so thrilled that you’re doing art in your classroom, but that’s not something that’s going to happen here.
Y’all I know I have been talked into a couple of times of doing holiday crafts in my art room and I immediately regretted it. I regretted it because the kids were like, “Hey, wait, is this what we’re doing today?” Kids know the difference between cutesy crafts and really digging in and creating. You want to make sure that your room is the place where number one, you’re teaching your curriculum and I’m pretty sure terra cotta pots with a Christmas theme isn’t a part of it and you want to make sure that they’re getting the best art experience they can.
When this has happened to me and it has happened to me a number of times, it’s when you got to put that Santa boot down y’all. “I love that you’re doing crafts in your classroom with your kids. Unfortunately, I have a curriculum that I have to follow, just like you. Isn’t that crazy?” Okay, I don’t say that part, and in my curriculum, I just don’t have time to help you with this.
What I like to do is offer a solution. What I can do is lend you some of my paint brushes and some styrofoam plates for you to use as pallets. Making sure that you offer a solution, it really lets the teacher know that you, number one like I said, mention that you have a curriculum. That you are a serious educator just like they are, but that you appreciate that they’re doing something artsy in their room even if it’s not something that you would consider artsy. Those kids are still getting a little bit creative and in my mind, that’s always a good thing.
So I’m always there to provide a solution, but here’s one thing I don’t do. I let them use my non-consumable supplies, but definitely not my consumable. Meaning I’m not going to be passing out paint, I’m not going to be lending out popsicle sticks or anything else that I might be using in my room for my students to create with according to our curriculum. So make sure you put that Santa boot down. I’m all about being flexible until it crosses into the real reason that I’m there, which is to provide my students with an art education that goes along with the curriculum.
Speaking of holiday crafts and all that jazz, I personally steer completely clear of doing any kind of holiday-themed art with my students. I know many of you work in Jewish schools or Christian schools and of course that’s expected of you and that’s probably a part of your curriculum, but being a public school teacher and working at a title one school with an extremely diverse community of students, I just don’t feel comfortable teaching my students all about just one religion or the other.
If I were going to kind of go down that road, then I think it would be so fun to do a Christmas around the world experience for my students. How awesome would that be to really allow them to peek inside how other cultures and other places around the world and other religions celebrate during this holiday season if they do. But that would have been a great idea had I started about a month ago. Seeing my students as infrequently as I do, especially at this time of year, it sounds like a project that would sound like a great idea and I would get started on it and we literally would not finish until probably March. So for me, I’m just going to take a little detour around all holiday projects and just focus on winter themed projects.
So I think it was about a year ago that I did a podcast all about my favorite winter-themed art projects. So if you’re interested, definitely give that one to listen and if you hop over to my blog or my YouTube channel, you will find a ton of projects to give your students the winter-themed experience, like creating faux stained glass, wintered evergreen trees with black glue and chalk, creating collage, hot cups of cocoa, painting landscapes, printmaking designs on hats and gloves that will later be used to create a self portrait. There are so many amazing lessons that you could get started on that are winter themed and fabulous.
Also, if you’re like me and you’re always so late to get projects done, I’m kinda contemplating starting my, I’m going to call them Valentines Day, but my season of love projects. I might get a jumpstart on some of those early simply because I am always so slow with projects and my students.
This is a slight side note because I get this kind of question and comment a lot and for me, this is one of my biggest stressors as an art teacher. I feel like I never get as many art projects out of my students and out of the short amount of time that I have with them as I would like, and I know a lot of you probably feel the same because I’ve gotten a lot of questions about that. Just so you know, I feel exactly the same and at the end of the school year we probably have a half a dozen two dimensional and maybe two or three, three dimensional and that is it.
So anyway, little side note, but I think that it’s important when thinking about that to really focus then on what projects and what things you really want your students to be creating that are really going to leave an impact and really empower them and would those kinds of quote Christmas projects, really do that for them.
All right. I feel like despite the stress of this time of year, the real take away, no matter what you celebrate, of this time of year is it’s just the spirit of kindness, and the spirit of love, and family, and tradition. And with that in mind, how can we bring that mindset into our art room and how can we use that as kind of like a jumping off point for our students and their creations?
So one thing that I love to chat with my students about is this time of year, maybe have them talk about how they celebrate it in their family and in their homes. As I said, I have an extremely diverse group of students and it would be a wonderful opportunity for them to just go around and share what does this time of year mean to you and to your family? And speaking of, how can we use our art to really express this time of year and what it means to us, the spirit of kindness and love.
So I think that that’s number four for me. How can we embrace this wonderful spirit of the holiday season in our art room and allow our kids to realize that art is possibly their vehicle to share the warm fuzzies that they feel this time of year?
All right. So this is separate from school, but this is one of my favorite things to do that really helps me survive until winter break. I absolutely love getting together with friends for craft nights. We have Christmas craft nights at my house and have other buddies that do it as well and I go to their house, and it is one of my most favorite things. If you’ve never hosted a Christmas craft night or holiday craft night, trust me when I say it will give you enough of a happiness and a little bit of energy to make it to winter break.
If you’ve never hosted one, what I usually do is I have I guess you would call it a potluck. I feel like such a grandma saying that word, but I just throw out the request that “Hey, bring some snacks. I’ll provide food, even if it’s just something as not great as pizza.” Who cares because the point of this time is to gather with friends and I love to gather with art teachering friends because those are my people that get me and understand how wackadoo this time of year is. We sit down, we have a great meal, and then we just roll up our sleeves and start making stuff.
It can be something as simple as just needle felting a small ornament, which is what I love to share, of course, my obsession with needle felting. Or creating something small out of polymer clay. Whatever it is, it’s just a time to unwind, de-stress with friends who are in the very same boat as you. And if you are in a district or in a situation where you don’t have a lot of art teachering friends, then gather up those teacher friends. Have a little night where you’re just sitting, relaxing and creating and trust me, they’re all going to fight it. They’re all going to say, “But I’m not creative.” Just have them give it a shot. Trust me when I say they will have the very best time. And doing that with a group of colleagues, it’ll really make it so come the next day at work you’ll all be a little bit better equipped, more relaxed to make it until winter break.
T-minus how many days? I’m even afraid to start counting. I don’t want to start that at all, but I know it’s going to be a bumpy ride. I’m going to be flexible, I’m gonna put that Santa boot down, I’m going to embrace the season, gather with friends and steer clear of holiday art making stuff in my art room.
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Cassie: Let’s take a little dip into the mailbag. I recently got a series of questions from a young woman whose name is Rachel and she’s writing her thesis, and it’s all about decorating your classroom. I thought the questions were so great that I wanted to share them with you and share a couple of my responses.
I have been teaching art, as y’all know because I say it every other time. I’m like that old lady who doesn’t stop talking about it. I’ve been teaching art for 20 years and over those 20 years, my thoughts on decorating my room and setting up my art room have changed quite a bit. So her first question is, “Talk me through your process on how you choose a decorative item to place within your classroom, like trinkets, posters, classroom management items, etc.”
About two years ago, I guess it was summer before last, I remember walking into my art room to grab a couple of things for the summer, and I took a look around and all I saw was clutter. I had gotten to that point where if there was an empty space on a wall, I thought that it should be filled, and I just filled it with whatever. Posters from like Walmart, not even related to art teachering. Just if it had a cutesy unicorn and a rainbow on it or a cat or something, I just was plastering my walls with just nonsense.
I looked around, there was so much visual clutter that I felt bad for my students. I hadn’t meant to make my room, the walls in my room, look like a hot mess, but they did. A lot of the posters were fading. Some of them were sliding off the wall, and it took me back to when I was in elementary school, when you’d go into some of those teachers’ rooms, and you just knew that they’d had the same flipping poster up for the last 10 years, and they didn’t even see it anymore, and none of the kids looked at it or read it either.
I remember on a whim just tearing everything down. Everything and thinking, “From here on out, I’m going to decorate to educate. Whatever I hang is going to have a purpose. It’s not only going to be a beautiful item, but it’s going to serve a purpose in educating my students.” And it was then that I started making my, all of these things you can find on my blog, and my YouTube channel, I went to Michael’s, and I found these wooden oars, and I painted them to look like paintbrushes and created a massive color wheel for my wall. I painted my gong to look like a color wheel, I made a rainbow in my room out of paint brushes, and it’s got the rainbow order.
Everything that I made I wanted to make sure that it was not a poster. I wanted it to be three dimensional, and I wanted it to be handmade, and what I loved about that is because it gave me a creative outlet. I was creating it. I could tell my students, “Yes, this is something I made,” and it looks like if you go into a children’s museum where everything is 3D and intangible and it’s not a flat poster. That’s what I wanted for my art room, and it’s really become a space that for me, I love to be in. For my students, they love being in there as well, but it also is an educational environment for them. The things that I hang up, they all serve a purpose for them. It’s not merely just me filling a space like I once was in my art room.
Her next question was, “What about your color choices? How do you go about choosing a pattern?” Okay. Have you guys seen my art room? It’s rainbow. So there’s no swatches of maybe pastel this and pink that. No, it’s virtually every color. Very, very bright and bold. I would say that I try to balance it. There is no balancing rainbow. I mean, unless you paint like a dark cloud in the corner, how are you going to balance that?
One way that I have found to kind of balance it a little bit is I have black and white curtains that kind of bring down the crazy rainbow town. They balance it out a little bit, and I also have a couple of visuals in my room that are black and white, that kind of balanced that as well. I wanted my room to be bright, cheery and colorful. I also want it to be a big environment, meaning that when you walked in, it was kind of all-encompassing.
So I have one huge wall that just looks like a big drippy rainbow of a wall. And one of her questions that I thought was really great was she was asking me … I’m trying to find it, but I don’t see it. She was asking me … Oh, here it is. “When decorating your classroom, do you gravitate towards thematic visual aids?” I think this is an awesome question. Several years ago I would completely flip my room every summer into a different culture that we were going to be learning about.
So one year I completely redecorated it so it looked like Mexico. Another year it was ancient Egypt, one time it was the Renaissance period, another time it was western Africa, then there was Paris, France. I mean it was a lot of fun, but it was a lot of work. I would spend weeks during the summer repainting windows, sewing curtains, doing everything I could to make this amazing environment.
It became pretty overwhelming, so I have since decided that I want my art room to have a permanent look about it, which is crazy. Rainbow is balanced by the black and white. But now I have an office, so that office area is where I’m going to start doing my more thematic decorating, and my goal over the next couple of weeks when we come back for the new year is to transform my office into a cave so that when we kick off the new year, we’re going to be learning about cave art. So my students will have this small environment for us to all cozy up, sit in with a dim light in a little surrounding area that looks like a cave, learn about cave art and then step back into our regular art room to create. That’s my idea about that, and I’m fortunate, very fortunate to have that kind of space.
Aren’t those great questions? It’s interesting how important your environment is, and I challenge you to just take a look around and if you have one of those posters that’s slightly faded, the corners are peeling up, it’s maybe a little falling off the wall, tear it down, and in your spare time and all of you have spare time over winter break maybe. Think about how you can kind of transform or create something that will really transform your environment and make it a happier place for you and for your students.
If you have a question for me, you should email me. You can find me at [email protected]
Okay, I just looked at my calendar. Winter program, winter art show, a kindergarten program, Santa Clause is visiting, winter feast. I don’t even know what that is. Field trip, field trip, going over to the junior high to see them sing winter songs. I just counted up on my little bitty fingers, that’s eight interruptions and that’s not even all of them. Hugs to you my friend, know that it is going to be a wild ride, but we will make it to winter break. Then there’s that long and never-ending span of time from winter break to spring break. Oh my God, the longest time ever and then we’ll have a whole new podcast all about how to make it to spring break. Until then, have a great weekend.